Missouri AG Schmitt settles ‘taxation by citation’ lawsuit against Moscow Mills

(The Center Square) – The City of Moscow Mills, Missouri, denied any wrongdoing in a legal settlement with Attorney General Eric Schmitt regarding allegations of requiring traffic-ticket quotas.

A 2016 Missouri law prohibits ordering or suggesting to an employee of a political subdivision to issue a certain number of traffic citations on a daily, weekly, quarterly, yearly or other basis. It also prohibits any other quota or requirement for the employee to increase the number of traffic citations they are currently issuing.

The city is located approximately 50 miles northwest of St. Louis.

Schmitt filed a 10-page petition last November containing allegations of official misconduct regarding a “traffic ticket quota scheme.” Schmitt’s petition alleged Chief of Police Terry Foster attempted to silence whistleblowers, including terminating an officer who approached Mayor Patrick Flannigan “to discuss concerns about the ticket quota scheme.”

Schmitt’s lawsuit stated Moscow Mills’ alleged practices threatened the rights of Missourians but acknowledged payment of damages wasn’t an adequate legal remedy.

The settlement stated the City of Moscow Mills denied allegations they created a new traffic enforcement officer position for “the explicit purpose of generating additional municipal revenue.” The city also denied any verbal policy issued by Chief Foster instructing the traffic enforcement officer to write 10 citations per day and other officers to issue five per month.

“The City of Moscow Mills denies such alleged wrongdoing and/or knowledge of any wrongdoing by its employee(s),” the settlement states. “The City of Moscow Mills agrees and admits that having any policy as alleged in the State’s Petition requiring or encouraging employees to issue a certain number of citations for traffic violations would be in violation” of state laws.

Moscow Mills agreed in the settlement to eliminate the traffic enforcement officer position and develop policies to ensure compliance with Missouri law. It also agreed to start a training program by May 1 to ensure compliance with laws and submit to a review by Schmitt’s office one year after the court approves the settlement.

If Moscow Mills fails to comply with state law at any point within three years of the agreement, it will be fined $100 per day.

The Moscow Mills 2021 budget showed a budget of $160,000 in court fine revenue, 14% of the city’s total revenue. The budget document also showed court fine revenues of $124,306.90 in 2018 and $154,507.50 in 2019, about 13% of the city’s total revenue. Court fine revenue was $105,324 during the first 10 months of 2020, about 10% of its revenue.

Schmitt asked for an award of the costs and attorney’s fees incurred to file the suit, but the settlement stated each party would be responsible for its fees, costs and litigation expenses.

“Since taking office, I’ve worked vigorously to ensure that municipalities are not using overzealous ticketing practices to fill municipal coffers, and my Office has been successful in curbing those practices in this case and in previous cases,” Schmitt said in a release announcing the settlement. “The brave men and women of law enforcement sacrifice to protect our communities, not write endless traffic tickets. As a state senator, I fought to pass Senate Bill 5 to end the practice of taxation by citation, and now as attorney general it’s my duty to enforce that law.”

A media release from Schmitt’s office stated favorable results in similar lawsuits against the City of Diamond and Marshfield.

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